2020 Audi S4 Review

Christian Wardlaw | Mar 06, 2020

Introduction

Cars. When you haven’t driven one for a while, like the restyled and updated 2020 Audi S4, you forget how much fun they are in comparison to a typical SUV. Low to the ground. Lighter and more efficient. Far more enjoyable to whip around corners and curves. And they’re typically less expensive than an equivalent crossover.

Sure, you give up cargo space, a taller driving position, easier entry and exit, and, depending on which car you buy, all-wheel drive for battling blizzards. These are all good reasons to buy the same box-on-wheels that everyone else is driving nowadays. But if you want to have fun on pavement, nothing beats a car.

In order to make sure it remains on the radar of luxury car buyers Audi has given the engaging 2020 A4/S4 lineup a thorough makeover. In fact, according to Anthony Garbis, Audi’s product manager for this model, the 2020 A4/S4 update is the most significant mid-cycle refresh in the automaker’s history.

2020 Audi S4 front and side view in gray

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated an Audi S4 Premium Plus equipped with metallic paint, Magma Red Nappa premium leather, Carbon Atlas interior inlays, the S Sport Package, Dynamic Steering, and 19-inch wheels. Additionally, the test vehicle had the Driver Assistance Package, the Navigation Package, and a 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen premium sound system. The price came to $63,990, including the $995 destination charge.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 Audi S4, it is helpful to understand who buys this compact premium car, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

According to J.D. Power data, which includes both the A4 and S4, this car appeals to men. The data shows that 72% of A4/S4 owners are male (vs. 65% for the segment). They are younger, too, with a median age of 54 years (vs. 57 years). And they’re more affluent, enjoying a median annual household income of $157,386 (vs. $150,146).

Performance is a driving factor for choosing the Audi A4/S4. J.D. Power data shows that 60% of A4/S4 owners identify as Performance Buyers (vs. 44% for the segment). Yet fewer A4/S4 owners agree that their friends and family think of them as someone who knows a great deal about autos (62% vs. 66%).

Cost-related factors are not as important to A4/S4 owners. The data shows that 72% of them agree that they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs (vs. 80% at the segment level). Furthermore, just 46% of A4/S4 owners strongly agree that reliability is a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle (vs. 56%).

When it comes to gas mileage, 40% of Audi A4/S4 owners agree that a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle is miles per gallon (vs. 45%). At the same time, 55% of A4/S4 owners say they’re willing to pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (vs. 50%).

Owners say their favorite things about the A4/S4 are (in descending order) the driving dynamics, interior design, engine/transmission, exterior styling, and seats. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the A4/S4 are (in descending order) the visibility and safety, climate control system, infotainment system, storage and space, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says…

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2020 Audi S4 measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.

Exterior

As part of the most extensive mid-cycle refresh Audi has ever bestowed on one of its vehicles, the 2020 A4/S4 is completely restyled. Only the roof and greenhouse remain the same. The goal is to better align the A4 family with the larger A6, A7, and A8, all of which are draped in design inspired by the automaker’s Prologue concept car. The result, to my eye, is a less artfully tailored but admittedly bolder in appearance.

Interior

Subtle interior changes aim to elevate the 2020 A4 and S4 in terms of cabin ambience. Otherwise, the interior is mostly the same as it was before, but with a much larger 10.1-inch touchscreen display that accompanies an all new infotainment system.

The S4 test vehicle, equipped with lusty Magma Red diamond-stitched premium leather seats and polished metallic accents, contrasted sharply against the carbon fiber-style trim and otherwise black, no-nonsense cabin.

Seats

Four adults will be happy while seated in the 2020 Audi A4 and S4, and especially if they’ve scored a front-row seat to the festivities. Equipped with heated, massaging 12-way sport seats, the S4’s driver and front passenger will enjoy the drive for reasons unrelated to driving dynamics.

I’m six feet tall, and more leg than torso. The A4’s back seat is perfectly comfortable for me, offering good thigh support and just enough clearance for my knees when the driver’s seat is in my favored position.

Climate Control System

A triple-zone climate control system is standard across the A4 family, ensuring comfort for everyone. Unlike several other Audis, the car doesn’t use the company’s dual-screen touch-panel technology, so traditional knobs and buttons control temperature, airflow, seat heating and ventilation, and defogging systems.

Seasonably cool desert temperatures prevented evaluation of the system’s heating and cooling effectiveness.

Infotainment System

New for 2020, the A4 family is first to receive what Audi calls its MIB 3 infotainment system. It offers 10 times the processing speed of the previous system and runs on Samsung-sourced automotive-grade microchips.

The 10.1-inch, tablet-style, high-resolution touchscreen looks oversized for the A4’s interior, and if you sit low in the car it could block outward visibility. Glare is sometimes an issue, but otherwise the system is terrific, especially its natural voice recognition capabilities.

The S4 test vehicle had Prestige trim, which includes navigation and an outstanding 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system. Audi Virtual Cockpit digital instrumentation is standard starting with Premium Plus trim, and is newly available without navigation, though you’ll forego its stunning implementation of Google Earth imagery for the navigation map.

Storage and Space

Audi A4/S4 owners are unhappy with the amount of storage and space within the car, and that doesn’t change for 2020. If you collect a bunch of clutter in your vehicle, this Audi can’t accommodate it. If you don’t, the A4 family offers enough storage for housekeys, smartphones, necessary documentation, and a big cup of coffee.

Trunk space measures 12 cubic feet, which isn’t much. But the floor space is generous, so it seems larger than it is.

Visibility and Safety

In testing performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the A4 receives top ratings for crash protection and advanced driving assistance system (ADAS) performance. The IIHS still needs to evaluate the car’s headlights before considering it for a Top Safety Pick designation.

A forward-collision warning system with low-speed automatic emergency braking is standard, along with Audi’s Pre Sense front collision preparation technology. Upgrades include Audi Pre Sense Rear, a blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic warning, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go and low-speed following capabilities, and active lane-keeping assistance.

Additionally, Audi Connect connected services switch to Verizon’s 4G LTE network for 2020. The Care plan is standard, providing A4/S4 owners with free access to roadside service, an SOS emergency call button, and more.

As far as visibility is concerned, aside from the bigger infotainment screen potentially blocking clear sightlines for people who sit low behind the steering wheel, there are no issues. The car is available with a surround-view camera system as well as a color head-up display.

Engine/Transmission

Buy an Audi A4 with front-wheel drive, and you’ll get a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine making 188 horsepower and 236 lb.-ft. of torque. A 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission helps scoot the car to 60 mph in a claimed 7.1 seconds. Fun fact: the standard 17-inch wheels are composed of lightweight forged aluminum.

With Quattro all-wheel drive, the A4 has a more powerful version of the 2.0-liter turbo. It makes 248 hp and 273 lb.-ft. of torque, shaving 1.5 seconds off of the acceleration time.

A turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 is standard in the Audi S4. Thanks to 349 hp and 369 lb.-ft. of torque, it zooms to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, according to Audi. An 8-speed automatic delivers the power to all four wheels, and an available sport rear differential adds torque vectoring to the rear-biased Quattro system.

Needless to say, the Audi S4 is a driving enthusiast’s dream, especially when equipped with the S Sport Package, which installs the sport rear differential. Speed is immediate and effortless, the car unfazed by elevation. Activate Dynamic mode, use the paddle shifters, and it makes all of the right sounds, too.

Fuel Economy

Over the course of 115 miles of driving, often with enthusiasm, and mainly on open highways laced atop the mountains near Palm Springs, California, the Audi S4 returned 22.4 mpg. The EPA expects the car to get 23 mpg in combined driving. The engine requires premium fuel.

Driving Dynamics

Another component of the S Sport Package, the sport-tuned adaptive damping suspension virtually erases unwanted body motion. The test vehicle also had the optional Dynamic Steering system, which quickens off-center response to transform the S4 into a blacktop scalpel. And while the optional red brake calipers are just for show, the car’s brakes are excellent, delivering assured performance when driving the S4 with verve.

As capable as the S4 is, though, when you switch into Comfort mode it softens up and settles down, delivering the smoothness and serenity luxury car buyers want and expect. In this respect, it has two distinct personalities, the common thread between them unflappable confidence.

Final Impressions

While the 2020 Audi S4 is irresistibly fun to drive, it doesn’t represent the bulk of sales for this model. Therefore, and based on past experience, it’s a good thing that the less powerful A4 is similarly rewarding at a more affordable price point.

Both the A4 and S4 benefit from the new infotainment system. But if the new styling isn’t to your liking, you can always shop for a certified pre-owned A4/S4 with low miles, because under its fresh skin the 2020 A4 family is basically the same as it has been since 2017.

Explore new car previews
2020 Subaru Outback Preview
2020 Subaru Outback Preview
Introduced at the 2019 New York International Auto Show, the 2020 Subaru Outback has been optimized to offer better fuel efficiency, a quieter and safer ride, boosted technology, and turbocharged power, which is something Subaru hasn’t given its Outback in over ten years.
Read the full review
2020 Mazda CX-30 Preview
2020 Mazda CX-30 Preview
Based on the redesigned Mazda 3 platform, the new 2020 Mazda CX-30 is larger and more sophisticated than a Mazda CX-3, but smaller and sportier than a Mazda CX-5.
Read the full review
What's New For 2020 Honda Pilot
What's New For 2020 Honda Pilot
Fresh off of last year’s redesign, the 2020 Honda Pilot adds three new trim levels to its 2019 fleet of five. And while there are no significant changes for 2020, find out on what they are.
Read the full review
Read all articles
Scroll to the top
New Car Preview
2021 Polestar 2 Preview
Most Dependable
2019 Vehicle Dependability: Most Dependable Trucks
Most Popular
10 Most Popular Large SUVs and Crossovers
New Model Update
New for 2019: Chevrolet Trucks, SUVs, and Vans
New Car Preview
2021 Genesis G80 Preview
More related
articles